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Charlottesville Business Leaders Receive Zoning Ordinance Update

By Neil Williamson, Free Enterprise Forum

On Thursday afternoon (10/19), the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a webinar highlighting the significant changes proposed in Charlottesville’s new zoning code. Business leaders heard directly from Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Services Department Director James Freas and Riverbend Development Vice President Ashley Davies provided a timely update on the proposed zoning ordinance that was recommended to the City Council for approval only hours prior.

University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce Chief Culture Officer and Chamber Public Policy Committee Chair Mariane Asad Doyle opened the meeting stating the Chamber has not taken a position on the ordinance but recognizes it represents a substantial, generational change in the City. Chamber members are eager to learn more about the proposal.

Freas provided a bit of history on this rewrite that started nearly seven years ago (five years before he joined Charlottesville staff). He highlighted the previous code relied heavily on regulating the size of buildings and uses permitted but the new code is more focused on how the buildings relate to the street and impact placemaking. Beyond the increased density in residential zoning, he mentioned several other changes in the new code including:

  • No minimum car parking requirement
  • Transportation management plans requirement
  • Bicycle parking requirement

Davies explained her role on the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable (CADRe), a Chamber affinity group. She also served on the Cville Plans Together Steering Committee which worked closely with City staff in developing the Affordable Housing Plan, the Comprehensive Plan, and penultimately the Zoning Code.

One CADRe concern was how existing buildings will be treated after this new comprehensive zoning change is enacted. If they are determined to be non-conforming, how will renovation and expansion be administered under the new code? Davies also mentioned the new streetscape and prescriptive “form based” code element that will enhance placemaking but will likely also drive up the project costs. Finally, Davies asked rhetorically, if the new code increases potential development does it also increase the cost of the land thus making it more expensive to build in the city?

In the Q&A portion of the webinar, Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson moderated questions from the leaders assembled. Freas mentioned that the zoning ordinance needed to be a “dynamic” document and be revisited at least annually to make tweaks to address issues. He also shared how the code works to support Charlottesville’s climate goals by promoting walking and alternate transportation modes. Freas volunteered that the site plan process is smoother than it once was but is still not as good as it needs to be and that any such government delays negatively impact housing affordability.

Chamber CEO Natalie Masri wrapped the session thanking the speakers for a highly engaging discussion, indicated that the Chamber would continue monitoring zoning developments, and indicated a recording of the webinar would be made available.